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#1 Morgan

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Posted 09 April 2018 - 06:20 PM

10hreoi.jpg

 

Phaser Rifle (1994)

 

The history of the Trek product line has had its share of missed opportunities and blunders, but one early Playmates item that sticks out is the Phaser Rifle, shown in 1994, around the time that the TNG 7th season figures and the "Generations" line were coming out.

 

The most interesting aspect of this prototype is that it's not lamely scaled-down to a quarter of the original, but is actually pretty big and relatively well proportioned. The rifle would have included a pivoting "sight" screen, which popped up from the back half of the rifle just like on the actual prop, as well as light and sound effects. The biggest departure from the original was perhaps the slightly bulbous head, but that's about it. The toy would have had a clear midsection and tip that would have lit up when the trigger was pressed.

 

This seems like an obvious item that could have really helped the line, but after its appearance in 1994 alongside the palm phaser and the walkie-talkie communicators (ugh), the phaser rifle was never seen again.

 

Were commercial or retailer considerations to blame for its shelving?

 

The two phasers and the tricorder did pretty well at retail; unlike the ships and playsets there were seldom any items that hung around for a year and a half and got shelf-worn into oblivion. The big phaser, as you recall, was particularly sought after even though it was produced in big numbers, and the tricorder was cleared out pretty fast as well. The subsequent medical tricorder was produced in smaller numbers but also did well at retail. Based on this background it seems like the phaser rifle coming out in 1995 would have done well at retail -- it could have been packaged in a half-open box that would allow buyers to hold it and press all the buttons before buying it -- just like the various Kenner Star Wars blasters that also found buyers fast.

 

The manufacturer's decision, I suspect, may have had something to do with "large items" like the Transporter, which was not selling well at all, but which took up a lot of space.

 

The small phasers and tricorders were an easier sell to stores since their boxes were small, but the phaser rifle would have required at least two feet of shelf space, in essence becoming a victim of its own realism. The big ships also did not do well at retail, at least the ones that were produced in any quantity. The phaser rifle would have been longer than the boxes of the Enterprise-D and things like that, and it would have been priced (I would think) around $30.00 or more. Would that have been the deal-killer right there? Playmates had acknowledged at that time that something like 70% of their Trek items are bought by adult collectors anyway, who presumably don't have to beg their parents for $30.00, but I can see how retailers would not have wanted a large item with a high-ish pricetag on shelves.

 

Still, more than 20 years later it seems this was a very obvious crowd-pleaser that the line passed up to its detriment.
 

 



#2 Jay K

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Posted 09 April 2018 - 08:25 PM

Great post, man!

I'd absolutely love a TNG/DS9 Phaser Rifle (the one displayed above)...maybe one day. :)



#3 Morgan

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Posted 10 April 2018 - 05:40 PM

2it6ek9.jpg

 

Cardassian Galor-class Warship (1994)

 

At Toy Fair 1994 the manufacturer demonstrated a Galor-class warship vehicle that would have been part of the second wave of DS9 merchandise. The working prototype featured a sound chip with phaser and photon firing sounds, a light up navigational deflector, and two light-up engines, two on each wing. A total of four buttons were located at the top of the midsection -- you can see four dark dots on the structure at the middle of the ship, right where the tail just begins.

 

The Galor-class made it as far as being announced, along with Ops, but was shelved in the run-up to a pretty busy merchandising year for Playmates with the debut of another wave of TNG figures, a second wave of DS9 figures and the whole "Generations" lineup.

 

Why was it dropped? The answer here is perhaps pretty simple: The Vor'cha, Bird of Prey and the Romulan Warbird were not hot sellers and shelf space was at a premium. The tooling costs for the Galor, which would have been just under a million dollars, also did not square up with how many Playmates could reasonably sell, which could have been as low as 40,000. Retailers had an easier time justifying the DS9 station and the Runabout, which actually appeared in the opening credits, but a third vehicle was just too much and was not expected to be as hot a seller. And buyers, for their part, were first going to buy the space station, then the runabout, and only then the Galor.

 

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Alien ships, as all manufacturers of the Star Trek license found out, were a crapshoot at best and a money-losing item at worst. The pace with which the Vor'cha and the Warbird moved off shelves was significantly slower than warp speed -- they were a little overproduced -- and by this point Playmates had already been burned by money-losing items like the Transporter. As the least commercially promising of the three DS9 vehicles (Runabout, Station and Galor-class), the Galor-class simply didn't make the cut.

 

Indeed, it's hard to imagine anyone but collectors buying the somewhat obscure Galor-class. The ship was not seen in every DS9 episode, to put it mildly, and it was not really that much of a "villain" vehicle because it didn't fight with Federation ships on screen. It also didn't look mean or particularly alien -- it was yellow, it wasn't shaped like a bird, and it didn't have any signature "moves." In fact, the Galor-class didn't really do a whole lot more than slowly float into view on the main viewer with its front and nothing else toward the camera, and then some Gul with an attitude appeared on screen.

 

The Galor-class would get more airtime in much later seasons, but at the time Playmates didn't really know whether it would start appearing in episodes more or less, or whether it would be displaced by another design.  
 



#4 Damon1984

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Posted 11 April 2018 - 11:54 AM

Whenever you think that Playmates was already firing on all cylinders, something like this shows up. Man, they really had a ball, right? This is just awesome stuff. I know they planned and dropped a Kazon fighter and a turbolift for the Enterprise-D Bridge, but this? This is all new to me.

 

The phaser rifle looks awesome and I'm sure it would have done well in retail. The LAARP stuff is still pretty popular. The Galor class... okay, I can see, why they dropped that. I would have bought it - I really love the design - even more so than the Warbird or the Vor'Cha.

 

Thanks a lot for digging so deep and showing these little gems, Morgan. I rarely use Like-Buttons, but... have a like. :)

There never was a prototype/picture of the Ops, was there?



#5 Morgan

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Posted 13 April 2018 - 05:04 PM

It appears to have been cut from the lineup early on, before the DS9 vehicle assortment's appearance at Toy Fair 1994. I don't know if it really even got the plastic mockup-stage that could be shown at an industry event. It's believed that, aside from commercial considerations, the Ops set would have been too expensive to do properly because it's a pretty complex set with a turbolift, etc, transporters, and an office with sliding doors, & that it would have been too expensive to tool up even if retailers would sell something so big and expensive. Which they didn't.

 

So the manufacturer was always rubbing up against the issue of the tooling cost versus units to be produced & sold to break even, and having lost money on something relatively cheap and small like the Transporter it made more extravagant items less likely.

 

Compared to the TNG Bridge, Ops would have ridiculously complex with its railings and stairs and big lighted walls and multiple levels. I think it would have been a miracle if they had managed to reproduce 50% of it with any accuracy, without "dropping" elements here and there. The end product, I think, would have been very far from the original. This is actually the reason the TOS Bridge was never made -- Playmates openly acknowledged it that to do it right would have been too expensive for retail.



#6 Morgan

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Posted 13 April 2018 - 05:11 PM

Kazon+Raider.jpg

 

Kazon Raider Ship with Exclusive Kazon Figure (1995)

 

Early on the planning of the Voyager line, the company produced a prototype of the Kazon ship that it shopped around to its retailers. The ship would have come with an exclusive Kazon action figure and would have featured lights and sounds. The prototype of the Kazon ship was pretty heavy on detail, and it was reasonably proportional in regards to the ships seen onscreen.

 

For a variety of reasons, Playmates chose not to produce the Kazon ship mostly due to cost and retailer considerations, and most of these are pretty easy to guess.

 

First of all, 1995 and 1996 were already very heavy on Trek merchandise. In fact, I can't think of a heavier stretch with the First Contact figures coming out to displace Generations figures which were still hanging on shelves, multiple DS9 waves were overlapping each other, the TOS line had just debuted shortly prior to the first lineup of Voyager figures. Playmates had no shortage of vehicles hitting shelves, but aside from the USS Voyager vehicle there was likely no obvious "second" vehicle to offer in the line, and it doesn't seem like the big retailers wanted one in the first place unless it was an obvious slam dunk.

 

Second, the whole Kazon ship concept seemed doomed from a recognition point of view. It was seen in the pilot, but beyond sporadic appearances in season 1, it was not by any means guaranteed that the Kazon would stick around for seasons 2 and 3 and beyond. A decent variety of Kazon ships were seen on screen, but it still suffered from the "alien adversary" demand issue which by this time was accounted for in lower production numbers for figures.

 

Third, there was once again the issue of tooling costs versus how many Playmates could sell to retailers. The Kazon ship likely looked sketchy from that standpoint, and breaking even would have been some kind of miracle. To retailers the Kazon ship likely seemed far from a slam dunk, and AMT had just come out with its own model which would have been close in scale to Playmates' version.

 

Fourth, there was also the likely issue of alternatives. What other vehicles instead of this one could Playmates gamble on and win? Not a whole lot had been seen in Season 1. The only other alternative in the first three seasons of Voyager was the Type 9 shuttle, but it had not yet been seen when Playmates was planning the Kazon ship -- the Type 9 was first seen in S2E15, in the horror that was "Threshold." For this reason it was pretty much the USS Voyager and the Kazon ship that were in contention. But the Kazon ship was a distant second after Voyager. The Maquis ship was not a contender because it was toast in the first episode. (Curiously enough, Playmates would produce the Maquis ship and the Galor-class in the Micro Machine Action Fleet scale, which was easier for retailers to swallow, but which was not all that numerously produced itself, if you notice).

 

Fifth, there was the issue of price at retail. These large ships were not cheap and retailers had to expect to sell a good number of them. From this perspective the Kazon ship looked like a weird gamble.

 

I bought AMT's model kit just as soon as it had debuted and really liked it, but I never thought "Hey, this would be great with lights and sounds for $29.99 at Fred Meyer." Oof!
 



#7 Damon1984

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Posted 14 April 2018 - 08:39 AM

I'm not too sad about the Kazon fighter being dropped. It's a nice ship (now that I look at it - it reminds me a bit of Captain Protons rocket ship :D) but the Kazon never really worked and I was glad when Voyager left them behind. Still, it's cool seeing all these What-Ifs.

 

Here is a picture of the prototype and the "exclusive" kazon figure:

 

7c7mavak.jpg

 

Looks like the released Kazon figure, just with a beard and different colors. (If they would have changed his skin color as well, he would have looked like a decent Maaj Jabin)



#8 Morgan

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Posted 12 May 2018 - 07:03 PM

2zxt7qp.jpg

 

Romulan Disruptor (1994)

 

You'll recognize this immediately as the Sela figure's disruptor in a larger scale, and it made it to the prototype and advertising stage. It just didn't make it into production.

 

The Romulan disruptor would would have included three light-up elements when the trigger was pressed, as well as sounds. The prototype was shown in 1993/1994, around the time that the DS9 lineup of action figures, ships and accessories was being shown, but it ultimately did not make the cut.

 

There are a few reasons for this that we can figure out 25 years later: The disruptor was nowhere as recognizable as the Klingon one, which came out around this time, and it would not have been very compelling on shelves as Romulan items amounted to the Warbird that came out around that time. Romulan episodes, as we recall, were not that numerous, and the screentime that the disruptor actually got was not huge. Alien accessories were also a bit of a rarity, though it's worth remembering that the Bajoran phaser and tricorder were in fact produced (a minor miracle in hindsight. The Bajoran phaser was cool, if a little obscure, but the tricorder was even more obscure).

 

There's also the matter of alternatives: The Starfleet phaser rifle did not get the green light around this time, and that was arguably a more compelling item if a little on the expensive side. I think that if anything, Playmates would have opted to produce the phaser rifle than the Romulan disruptor if it came down to it, but ultimately neither were produced.

 

25 years later, I don't know if this would have been a popular item at the time. Handheld accessories were hit or miss, and the Type II phaser and the Tricorder were the only ones that appeared to be major hits and were also produced in absurd numbers -- take a look at the serial numbers on some phasers on eBay right now. They were hits, but they also had absurd amounts of screen time in each episode. The Klingon disruptor was a tougher sell, but it did okay at retail as well. The Romulan disruptor, on the other hand, seasoned Trekkers have to think about for a couple of seconds before identifying correctly. So I can't say that I blame the manufacturer for skipping on this one.
 



#9 Damon1984

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Posted 29 May 2018 - 10:06 AM

Another interesting "What could have been", Morgan. Thanks a lot! Sad this wasn't made. I always liked the look of the disruptor and I simply love the sounds it made. And I thought the Romulans were quite popular - they were, next to the klingons, the borg (and maybe the cardassians) one of the only big alien races of TNG. I remember quite a few romulan cosplay attemts at conventions back in the day. I'm sure they Disruptor would have sold better than the bajoran phaser at least :P



#10 Morgan

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Posted 08 October 2018 - 02:17 PM

Here's a pre-production view of the 1992 debut release figures. The paint is all a little off on these figures, most notably the top part of Picard's jacket which is blue like his undershirt, and lacking a holster. Gowron's stick accessory is actually painted, Data lacks a holster, as does the rest of the Starfleet cast.

 

 

2ent11t.jpg



#11 Damon1984

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Posted 09 October 2018 - 02:27 PM

 

Phaser Rifle (1994)

 

"Up Close & Plastic" just dug out this catalogue page with an ad for the Phaser Rifle:

 

Playmates%2BCatalogue%2B1994%2B27.png

 

Looks a bit awkward with all these holes, but I'm sure it was just an early prototype.



#12 Jay K

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Posted 10 October 2018 - 12:50 AM

Ah damn. :'( lol



#13 Morgan

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Posted 11 October 2018 - 05:17 PM

Sweet, thanks for posting this.

 

Yeah, the holes for the screws being on the side are weird -- I'm sure they could have been on the bottom easily enough for a 2-part housing -- like with the hand phaser.

 

Would have loved to see this at retail. I might photoshop together a mock box with this phaser in it later on. But I kinda get why it was a tough sell to retailers.

 

Looks like this thing was pretty much ready for production with a few tweaks, but was shelved at the last minute.






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